Family Connection: Austin Opfer Continues Athletic Tradition

November 26, 2012

Athletic News, Currents Magazine

Austin Opfer

Winona State University is known for its tightly knit family atmosphere. That’s partly because multiple generations have attended and earned their degrees here. With a line of great athletes, it’s inevitable that the family traditions would continue into the Warriors’ athletics program. Austin Opfer, a redshirt freshman linebacker from Springfield, Missouri, is continuing his family’s legacy of Winona State athletic greatness.

Son of former football standout Scott Opfer ’84, a 2003 Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, and Tracy Opfer ’85, Winona State gymnast and 1995 Hall of Fame inductee, Austin initially chose Winona State for many reasons beyond his family’s athletic past.

“When I actually came here and saw how beautiful the campus was and the general hospitality I received, I was sold,” said Austin.

Scott Opfer - Class of 1984

Scott Opfer – Class of 1984

Scott was a linebacker and one of the leaders of a football team that won the Warriors’ first conference championship in more than 20 years and a league championship in 1983. He earned NAIA All-District honors as well as All-Northern Intercollegiate Conference honors.

During her years on the Warriors gymnastics team, Tracy was a member of the 1984-85 NAIA national championship team and the first WSU gymnast to earn NCAA All-America honors. She claimed All-America honors for three consecutive seasons from 1982 to 1985 and earned a total of six individual All-America mentions.

“Tracy and I met at WSU, but in between school and sports there wasn’t much time for hanging out,” said Steve. “Since we were both athletes, loved sports, and she watched ESPN even more than me, I figured I better find a way to close that deal before she got away.”

Tracy Opfer - Class of 1985

Tracy Opfer – Class of 1985

Athletics have always been a huge part of the Opfer family. Although they’ve never forced any of their children into sports, it’s been a natural part of the family dynamic.

“I’ve been playing football since I was a little kid and my parents used to bring me to Winona State games,” said Austin. “It’s pretty cool to know that I was here as a child and now I’m here actually suiting up and playing.”

Scott couldn’t be more proud his son is continuing on the Warrior spirit.

“We let all of our kids make their own choices when it came to where they would continue their education. I did strategically save the WSU visit for last, because I knew he was going to really love Coach [Tom] Sawyer and the school.” Scott and Sawyer, the head Warriors’ head football coach, played together when they were students at WSU.

Along with the Opfers, there are four other current players whose fathers also played at WSU: Tyler Speer, son of Hall of Fame member Steve ’86; Rick Lilla, son of Richard; Derek Smidt, son of Doyle ’86; and Jack Ihrke, son of Bill ’87.

Jack Ihrke’s grandfather, Ahrley, also played for the Warriors and is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame.

“There’s a strong sense of tradition here. It’s a great atmosphere to coach and to have these great guys on the field,” said Sawyer, whose son, Tommy, also hit the gridiron for the Warriors.

“We want our kids to have the same experience we had,” said Scott Opfer. “It’s great to see the kids mature and play at a higher level, while the old dogs get to hang out telling old Warrior war stories.”

“The games last only minutes, but the memories last forever so you really have to enjoy the journey. That’s my hope for my son.”

Austin echoed his father’s thoughts. “I really just want to have as much fun as I can and make some unforgettable memories during my years at Winona State, stories that I can tell my old children about and inspire them.”

When asked about his own children following in the family tradition, Austin was optimistic that the tradition would continue. “I’m sure I’ll bring my kids back to the field like my parents did with me. I’m sure they’ll fall in love with the great school that’s part of our family.”

For the Opfer family – and several other WSU families – athletics and Hall of Fame membership is a family tradition.

For the Opfer family – and several other WSU families – athletics and Hall of Fame membership is a family tradition.

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About Winona State University

Founded in 1858, Winona State University is a comprehensive public university with more than 8,500 students. The oldest member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, Winona State offers 80 undergraduate, pre-professional, licensure, graduate, and doctorate programs on its three campuses: the original Main Campus in Winona, the West Campus in Winona, and Winona State University-Rochester.

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